Automotive component manufacturing industry now driving its skills pipeline

A collaborative public-private partnership called High Gear is placing the South African automotive component manufacturing industry as a leader in strengthening the country’s technical skills development ecosystem. Managed by IYF and drawing together the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers (NAACAM), the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and international funders, High Gear is channeling the needs of automotive component manufacturers into enhanced training in public TVET colleges. 

The mandate of TVET colleges is to grow the country’s modern productive economy and create sustainable employment for young South Africans while driving the transformation agenda. Developing and maintaining strong industry and TVET college partnerships is critical for ensuring that technical courses remain aligned with the ever-evolving manufacturing sector. This type of close alignment also helps to position TVET college graduates as first choice among employers, while providing industry with the skills it needs to grow. 

High Gear is designed to enable this more industry-aligned skills development system by shifting the way that a vital economic sector collaborates with public TVET colleges. With NAACAM as an anchor partner, High Gear draws on the knowledge, expertise and demand of the association’s membership base — more than 130 automotive component manufacturers — and translates that into actionable partnerships with the TVET system. 

High Gear is also positioned to support DHET’s skills strategy interventions that underpin the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan. The ERRP was created to maximise opportunities for new entrants to access and succeed in the labour market, while preserving existing jobs and creating new ones.

High Gear’s role within the ERRP is to ensure that skills are not a constraint to economic recovery, reconstruction and transformation by demonstrating a partnership model that will regularly align TVET courses with current and emerging demands in industry. Ongoing curricula alignment and lecturing upskilling through workplace exposure, both of which are built into the High Gear model, position TVET qualifications as flexible frameworks for regular and dynamic updates as industry needs evolve. 

High Gear is backed by catalytic funding from the UK Government’s Skills for Prosperity Programme, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. To sustain and scale High Gear, NAACAM is working to secure domestic funding that will ensure this remains a long-term initiative and a core service offering of the association. 

When designing High Gear, IYF’s first port of call was to work with NAACAM — the association that serves as the voice of automotive component manufacturers — to define the industry’s skills development priorities. The guiding framework for this analysis was the South African Automotive Masterplan 2035, which has a target of doubling employment in the country’s automotive manufacturing sector and ensuring that the local workforce is representative of the country’s demographics. 

NAACAM member companies, which number more than 150 in total, regularly participate in High Gear’s quarterly labour market surveys, to support the project’s partners in understanding the nature of existing skills gaps and the breadth of future skills required by the sector. The surveys also seek to identify regional and sub-sector-specific nuances in the skills environment. This information is then used to design interventions that guide TVET college partnerships and course enhancements. 

Industry is supporting the programme through work integrated learning opportunities for TVET lecturers and students, allowing both educators and learners to gain necessary “real life” exposure that will improve their technical knowledge — especially where technologies are implemented and evolve at a rapid rate. Technical subject matter experts from the components sector are also volunteering their time as industry guest lecturers to share their expertise. NAACAM is managing this component in KwaZulu-Natal, while the Automotive Industry Development Centre: Eastern Cape is taking the lead to implement High Gear’s work-integrated learning component. 

Robotics and other Industry 4.0 production methodologies and tools have been used in the domestic automotive sector since the early 1990s, and South African suppliers have been early adopters, especially given that most Tier 1 suppliers are divisions of multinationals and have adopted technologies and production systems from their countries of origin.

Prior to High Gear, the automotive components sector skills development ecosystem was relatively uncoordinated due to differing requirements across automotive assembler production lines, differing technologies, and staggered production launch times that impact individual suppliers’ approach to skills development. With NAACAM’s convening power, High Gear has created a more consolidated industry skills strategy that is poised to support South Africa’s development of a capable and industry-relevant pool of young talent.

NAACAM believes High Gear represents a tangible opportunity for component suppliers to collaborate meaningfully across the sector, and with TVET colleges in their geographical area. Industry players can now play a leading role in developing and implementing a skills roadmap for the sector and ensure that TVET lecturers and students are given the chance to participate in curriculum upgrading and re-silling, which will ensure their future participation in the automotive sector.

As a critical component of High Gear’s development of sustainable employment opportunities, NAACAM and IYF have launched a digital career experience platform (www.yakhifuture.org.za) that provide TVET students and other young people opportunities to explore career pathways in automotive component manufacturing, develop industry-relevant skills through interactive mini-games and online engineering study aids, and search for entry-level jobs through linkages to the Office of the Presidency’s SAYouth.mobi platform. 

By Shivani Singh, Commercial Director, NAACAM, and Colin Hagans, High Gear Programme Director at IYF

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